“Why do they hate us?” George W. Bush asked. I waited for his answer as did millions of others after the 9/11 events. We had lost our collective virginity when we had to acknowledge that some serious characters did not have our best interests at heart. As Bush spoke I conjured up the image of â€œtheyâ€ with the help of the cartoonists who had provided me with stereotyped fierce-looking Arabs, wielding curved swords, heads wrapped in kefiyahs and screaming anti-American curses.
W went on to say that they hate Americans â€œbecause weâ€™re free,â€ referring, I presumed, to the great institutions our founding fathers left us. He implied that the mass murdering fanatics of Al Qaeda loved a non-free system. So, to show them a thing or two, he advised us to fly somewhere for vacation, like Disneyland, and shop; in other words, practicing the American way of life would make us feel better and help the economy to boot; imagine, going to Disneyland as a veritable act of patriotism.
And while he assured us of our safety, Attorney General Ashcroft and Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, periodically warned us about the imminent threat of another terrorist assault. Well, one learns to live with contradictions, but where, I ask myself, does George W. Bush intend to lead us?
The head of a large empire needs a world vision, some sense that he knows that his policies coincide with the future, a road map that takes us beyond â€œtheyâ€ hate â€œusâ€ and â€œweâ€ love freedom. President Bushâ€™s speeches, remarks at infrequent press conferences and occasional off the cuff quips, however, donâ€™t offer much clarity about how he sees the coincidence between his policies and say, the future of the environment or the fate of the more than half the worldâ€™s desperately poor people, factors one must consider when thinking about the future in any reasonable form.
I have observed, in the seemingly interminable period of time since the Supreme Court elected him, some evolution in Wâ€™s behavior. From a rather crude and simplistic view of the world as Texas Governor, he has built on his old prejudices and added a few new twists. In his new mutation as imperial manager, for example, criminals have come to play a crucial role in this Texas-Yale weltanschauung.
As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush didnâ€™t believe in rehabilitating criminals. Indeed, those on death row didnâ€™t benefit from his compassionate conservatism. In fact, as governor for five years he presided over 152 killings, more executions â€“guilty or not — than any other State leader. Bush felt that sense of certitude â€“ weâ€™ve all seen it on his face on TV when he sets his jaw in that pose of religious conviction — that he seems to carry on every subject of policy. In February 2001, he proclaimed his confidence “that every person that has been put to death in Texas under my watch has been guilty of the crime charged, and has had full access to the courts.”
As Anthony Lewis noted in the June 17, 2000 NY Times, however, â€œin one-third of those cases, the report showed, the lawyer who represented the death penalty defendant at trial or on appeal had been or was later disbarred or otherwise sanctioned. In 40 cases the lawyers presented no evidence at all or only one witness at the sentencing phase of the trial.â€ In almost thirty other cases, prosecutors used psychiatric testimony based on â€œexpertsâ€ who had not bothered to even interview the people on trial for their lives.
Bush dismissed serious studies that raised doubts about the death penalty even brushing aside reservations held by such staunch advocates of capital punishment as the Taliban-like Pat Robertson, “We’ve adequately answered innocence or guilt,” Bush declared smugly to an Associated Press reporter. He assured reporters that every defendant “had full access to a fair trial.”
As with much of policy, Bush doesnâ€™t rely on facts especially when life and death are involved. His instinct tells him that when dealing with difficulty, whether on policy toward terrorism, Iraq or the death penalty, think of a joke. In November 2002, CNNâ€™s Crossfire replayed a tape of a reporter asking him about his priorities, the war against terrorism or the war against Iraq. Bush responded: â€œEr, uh, huh, Iâ€™m trying to think of something funny to say.â€ When Tucker Carlson of Time magazine asked him how he felt in putting a woman to death, he mimicked her plea to save her. â€œ`Please Bush whimpers,â€™â€ wrote Carlson describing his demeanor as â€œlips pursed in mock desperation,â€™ `donâ€™t kill me.â€™â€
As President, Bush has apparently reconsidered his stance on criminals, well, certain kinds anyway. His new rehabilitation program calls for the appointment to high policy posts of former felons who have links to mass murder not just simple homicide. These lawbreaker are also characterized by their utter contempt — not only for the lives of Central Americans but for the Congress and US Constitution as well.
Take as examples Elliot Abrams, John Poindexter, John Negroponte and Otto Reich, officials he recently named to manage important policy positions. I exclude the newly appointed Henry Kissinger to the Warren Commission on 9/11 because K showed contempt for human life on several continents and belongs in the bigger league of war criminals.
For those too young to recall or those with short memories, the four above mentioned characters conspired to circumvent congressional defunding of the Contras, the group President Reagan had chosen in the early 1980s to depose the government of Nicaragua. These four and their cohorts hatched a plot to sell weapons to Iran (also prohibited) so that they could funnel the proceeds to their beloved Contras ands then cover it up.
In his testimony to Congress, the scrappy Abrams made witness history when he declared: “I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I had no idea about.” The now 54 year old Abrams also explained in his autobiography that he had to inform his young children about the headline announcing his indictment, so he told them he had to lie to Congress to protect the national interest.
The then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State to Central America pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress and received two years probation and 100 hours community work. Now, the 54 year old Abrams as the new White House man on the Middle East, having learned that one can get away with felonious behavior if you maintain close links to the Bush family, will attempt to redraw the roadmap of the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin Powell drafted a plan for designing a peaceful solution and eventually a Palestinian state. The vision, by deduction, amounts to a rubber stamp for Israeli repression and expansion. It also coincides with Abramsâ€™ stated belief that Israel and the United States will benefit from tighter connections between the far right fundamentalist Christians who want Israel to prevail and occupy all of Palestine and US policy.
Former retired Admiral and National Security adviser to Reagan John Poindexter was convicted of five felonies involving conspiracy, obstruction of Congress, and making false statements. The judge gave him six months in prison, but an appellate court reversed the sentence because Congress had granted him immunity. His slipping out of prison on a procedural error does not change the facts of the case. Poindexterâ€™s vision runs toward secrecy and circumventing law in the interests of protecting â€œthe privacy of individuals not affiliated with terrorism,â€ his newest declaration.
Otto Reich ran Latin America policy until this month and now holds a special appointment from the White House for Latin America. Negroponte, now Ambassador to the UN, also played the Iran-Contra game and escaped indictment. Reich was minister of lying to the public from his Office of Public Diplomacy and Negroponte as US Ambassador to Honduras had to cover up â€“ now he has forgotten â€“ the dreadful behavior of our allies. The liberals called it human rights abuse, but Negroponte understood that you canâ€™t make an omelet without breaking the eggs, or some such Maoism.
By appointing these characters, Wâ€™s world view becomes clearer. Those who participated in Central America plots that caused the deaths of tens of thousands will have a second chance to show the public what they really stand for. Indeed, they remain as role models for the post republican United States. Congress has little place in such an imperial government. The media, epitomized by Fox and Rupert Murdochâ€™s chains, plays the aggressive war game and diverts the public. The National Security Plan released by the White House further shreds the republican fabric by placing the Bill of Rights into very second class status in a search for â€œfull spectral dominance,â€ â€“ hardly one that relates to the â€œnationâ€ or â€securityâ€ for that matter.
Similarly gone are past notions of accountability and openness when Administrations felt it necessary to cover imperial expeditions with shreds of republican fabric and maintain some semblance of the Bill of Rights.
The vision of the Bush White House promotes unashamedly the American way of life, one shared by majorities in Western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. For W, his means that leisure, pleasure, and relaxation, based on the individualâ€™s freedom to buy commodities will presumably satisfy any and all reasonable human urges. Implicit in this paradigm is Godâ€™s reward for the wealthy in the United States â€“ who shouldnâ€™t pay any taxes. God holds out a promise for the rest of the world: they too can succeed by adopting the American set of values.
The US government in this under this image exercises naked imperial power, saves the world from terrorists and drug traffickers, makes it more democratic and protects â€œourâ€ interests â€“ which are usually classified, that is known to the terrorists and drug traffickers but not the US public.
Those â€œweakâ€ dissenters who demand changes in Middle East policy that reflect regional realities and notions of equality and justice feel vulnerable to attacks on their patriotism. Those who demand attention to the immediate needs of the impoverished three plus billion people, the screaming demands of the environment, where the ice melting phenomena has scientists truly concerned â€“ they just donâ€™t understand the culture of power.
In Bushâ€™s mind power derives from the assumption that God has placed Nature in manâ€™s path for his immediate and interminable use. Trees are for chopping down for packing crates and tooth picks â€“ and furniture of course; animals are to kill for meat, hide and sport; fish to catch; land to develop and drill on and so on. Those who refer to income gaps â€œincite class warfare.â€ However mad it may seem, this vision symbolizes the nature of the people who currently manipulate power and wealth.
Their logic of power reigns as a cultural imperative. This world view eschews consequences. They smirk at references to increasing global poverty or ecological decay. Similarly, Bushâ€™s appointees seem uninterested in the apparent contradictions in US support of repressive regimes in some areas and condemnation of similar regimes that display disobedient tendencies in other regions
Bush relates to men who exercise power, like Sharon, â€œa man of peace,â€ the Saudi King who shares a love of Nature and the outdoors with the President because they both enjoyed riding in a pickup truck over Bushâ€™s ranch. Both men also, of course, play significant roles in the logic of the expanding American empire. Sharonâ€™s vision of a greater Israel coincides with Bushâ€™s theological supporters like the Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whose biblical mumbo jumbo demands that Israel conquer the Middle East. The oily Saudis literally fuel the imperial drive.
The logic of naked imperial power also includes a world of bizarre contrasts. As Wade Davis underlines in the July 6, 2002 Globe & Mail, â€œAmericans spend as much on lawn maintenance as the government of India collects in federal tax revenue.â€
The Bush vision of a world under the thumb of US power requires a $400 billion defense budget, larger than the entire economy of Australia. Yet, more than one sixth of the worldâ€™s population exists on less than $1 a day.
When Bush asked â€œWhy do they hate us?â€ I understand that he cannot imagine how playing video golf or shaking hands with a six foot rat at Disneyland could offend other people. Bush grew up with commercial values and knows only one notion of development. He seems unable to understand that this model has failed in the Middle East and throughout the third world.
Those who have followed its commands did not realize prosperity and happiness.
The model, based on high consumption of energy and other resources that damage the environment, does not coincide with the realities of Nature. The vision of power and the facts of earth are on a collision course.
The vision of power assumes that science and technology, the cause of some of the acute problems, can solve whatever issues arise. Look how many babies now live that once would have perished. The whole world enjoys increased life expectancy, but if one looks deeper into the kind of lives that third world people lead one sees something that obviously escapes George Wâ€™s visions. An Asian garment worker sewing jeans for The Gap makes about $88 a month. That is they literally fall into the gap, as their advertisement inadvertently tells us.
That gap has nothing to do with fashion modes. Rather, as Davis describes, it means families of six share one bed â€œin one room off a warren of alleys strewn with human waste and refuse.â€
The majority of the world however will not share in Bushâ€™s world. Nor does he envision them participating. In the Muslim world of a billon plus people, mostly very poor, Osama bin Laden appeals to his kind of paradise, a supposed ideal order in which harmony reined because people behaved in a properly servile way toward God and their earthly masters. The calling of the modern world is to forget the past, culture, values, language and get with the commodity culture, the only one W can imagine, the culture from which his vision of power has emerged. That power rests on immense wealth and military potency.
What the innocent Americans have learned through 9/11, however, is that neither our wealth nor military power translates into security. We can continue to export Baywatch into remote hamlets through the Middle East, but that will not stop the melting of the ice, the warming of the globe or the rising of the ocean levels.
Likewise, anti-Americanism will spread. The December 5, 2002 Los Angeles Times describes a recent Pew Research Center for the People and the Press public opinion study in 44 countries. Called â€œWhat the World Thinks in 2002,â€ the report found â€œanti-American sentiment in Muslim countries profound.â€ The problems that concern the worldâ€™s majority, according to the report, included the gap between rich and poor, hunger, environment and AIDS. Ironically, the majority in countries like Egypt and Turkey â€œlike American technology and culture [but] they are displeased over the spread of American ideas.â€
The ideas mean not just the exporting of Baywatch and other T&A shows, but refer also to the exercise of naked imperial power in the Middle East.
Under George W. Bush working with others has meant bowing and scraping to the ultra right, subservience to the gun and anti-abortion lobby, and the carte blanche for the anti-Castro Cuban terrorists who helped elect him. Indeed, in May, he ordered the Secret Service to let a Castro-hating Cuban convicted of terrorism â€“ Reynaldo â€œEl Chinoâ€ Aquit Manrique was caught by authorities pouring gasoline on a Miami warehouse in 1994 — sit on the platform while he lauded the embargo against Cuba.
Ironically, only criminal methods can realize Wâ€™s world vision. His culture of power means a government of men, not laws, men willing to subjugate, dominate, and impose their will on people and nature. And if you canâ€™t think of a good answer for a pesky reporter, tell a joke.
If you agree with this analysis then youâ€™ll conclude, as I have, that we face a dangerous situation and you will thus be motivated to get off your ass and do something about it.
Saul Landau teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University, is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and has just completed a film: IRAQ:VOICES FROM THE STREETS, available in English or Spanish from The Cinema Guild, 1-800-723-5522.